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Flavell: Telecommunications Amendment Bill

Telecommunications Amendment Bill

First Reading: Thursday 29 June 2006

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member for Waiariki

Tënä koe te whare.

The art of whai korero is a skill which is frequently commented upon in Te Ao Maori.

In reflecting on our finest orators, we will often speak of those who have expertise in connecting the people along lines of whakapapa.

We speak with awe of the way in which these master orators are able to define relationships, and link individuals to histories, to collectives, to ever-expanding worlds.

The key to our ongoing survival as people, is in such connections.

It is with this context therefore, that we turn our attention to the proposal to unbundle the local loop, to unbundle bitstream, and to introduce naked digital subscriber line broadband services.

Now I have to say from the start- that this new vocabulary, the terminology of telecommunications, does not come easily to me. But I understand the value of communication.

The Bill amends the Tele-communications Act 2001 to ensure the efficient and effective regulation of the tele-communications sector.

What this means in effect is that the Bill is sending a strong public policy signal to Telecom and to Vodafone that they will be subject to a greater degree of government regulation.

Now I understand that the Bill enhances the ability of the Commerce Commission to intervene strategically to promote the development of competition in tele-communications markets.

Phone and internet providers can now present a deal, just for you.

And in case any one is not aware that there is actually already a choice of providers, just listen to the list that are currently tendering for our business:

Hautaki, Saturn, Econet Wireless ltd, ACN, Kwiknet, netsurf, splurge, surfnet, slingshot, supra networks, actrix, raider internet, clear and Telstraclear, wave, ihug, woosh, xtra, paradise, wireless country….and that’s probably just a start.

Our rangatahi know these names like they know clothing labels.

Indeed, their cellphones are the fashion accessory that every rangatahi wants when they hit kura - and those that do hook up (to a provider that is), will jump from provider to provider - depending on which has the best offer on line for that month.

Which is precisely how it should be.

Under a virtual duopoly, consumers have not been well looked after. Some basic questions remain.

 Why does Aotearoa have the highest mobile phone rates in the OECD?

 Why does it cost exactly the same in real terms to make a voice call from my office here in Parliament to my Wellington home- as it does to make a call to my home in Ngongotaha -that’s Rotorua for those who don’t know- and yet I am being charged extra, relative to the physical distance (and yet there is no electronic distance involved). The ability to be well-connected now means far more than the quality of your social networks, as perhaps it did in previous generations.

Being well-connected is now driven by something as basic as telephone and internet access.

Indeed the Social Report for 2005 describes how internet and phone access is one of five significant variables which help us to understand social well-being.

And what do we find?

People living in Pasifika families have the lowest levels of telephone and internet access in the home (88 and 16 percent respectively) followed closely by people living in Maori families (92 and 28 percent).

The other groups that are featured in the low-level ranking - are families with unemployed adults and sole-parent families.

Sole parent families are half as likely as two parent families to have internet access (25% compared to 50 percent).

Madam Speaker, the Maori Party is keenly motivated by the need to ensure we do everything in our power to enhance social well-being.

We come, therefore, to this Bill, with the hope of ensuring there are other opportunities for other providers to compete for clients, and force our fixed line communications costs and indeed our mobile prices down to a realistic global price.

I have found that fixed line communication costs in New Zealand, including ADSL broadband are much higher than in most other OECD countries. And it is artificially kept that way. My question is, why is that so?

Mobile Technology

Madam Speaker, we are concerned that the Bill is primarily focused on regulation of the fixed line and it completely ignores mobile issues.

Our concern is that this Bill will pass without mobile issues being discussed and that it will take another Amendment Bill (whenever that might be) to address the mobile market concerns.

And it is the cost of our mobile technology which Ernie Newman, boss of TUANZ - the Tele-Communications Users Association of New Zealand - has labelled ‘scandalous’; alleging that New Zealanders are being ripped off by the current duopoly of the two big providers.

New Zealand has the highest overall mobile calling rates out of thirty OECD countries which is entirely due to the lack of competition in the mobile industry.

This is particularly urgent for tangata whenua, as our Maori spectrum interests are associated with mobile. Until the mobile issues are sorted, tangata whenua access to the tele-communications industry and the three billion dollar mobile market is restricted.

Participation in the telecommunications industry

The other key interest we have in the Telecommunications Amendment Bill is the distinction being made between ‘specified’ and ‘designated’ services.

Specified Services are services where the Tele-communications Commissioner can regulate everything except price.

Designated Services are services where the Tele-communications Commissioner can regulate everything including price.

Regulation of everything except price is not regulation at all. It is a complete nonsense.

There is a current mechanism in the Tele-communications Act to move Specified Services into the Designated Services category. However, this mechanism is slow and cumbersome.

What Generation Y want is a regulated roaming solution now - and the way of achieving that is through deleting specified services and moving the Specified Services into the Designated Services category.

Generation Y Maori are online as well - and to be frank, they astound me with their versatility and command of the technology.

Our kids are able to hold an old-fashioned conversation with me while at the same time texting their cousins.

They can download electronic screensavers and MP3 files faster than I can work out how to answer the cell-phone.

Madam Speaker, I consider myself a pretty techno-smart sort of guy.

But I’m still pretty hooked into the idea that a cell-phone is basically a small phone.

My children, my nieces and nephews, however, see their cells as the doorway to a world far beyond the whitepages.

They take infra-red photos of each other while I’m still searching for the on-off button.

At least I’m one ahead of one of my co-leaders, who calls his new-age phone his raspberry.

The Maori Party will vote in support of this Bill - to support the right of all our rangatahi to expand their knowledge and their capacity to communicate even further.

We are also of the view that we want the debate to go ahead to allow healthy competition in order to achieve New Zealand world-class broadband, or high-speed Internet, services.

Ultimately it is our belief in ‘he whakapapa ta te korero’ - the value of maintaining and expanding our communication with each other -that leads us to support the opportunity for further debate.

Kia ora tatou.

ENDS

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